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What It Really Takes to Snag an Awesome Tech Job

Jada A. Graves

Choosing to become an information technology professional usually means completing plenty of computer and math courses, earning a bachelor's degree and possibly even a master's. Entry-level candidates also know they'll be a more desirable hire if they've earned top grades from a respected academic program. But that isn't all that's required. Two human resources professionals from technology companies explain it's something less quantifiable than sky-high GPAs, summa cum laudes and Ivy League degrees that determines which IT job candidates are attractive hires.

[See: The Best Technology Jobs.]

EQ is as important as IQ. San Francisco-based Riverbed Technology provides location-independent computing resources for businesses, and it's well-known for its collaborative corporate culture. Mike Guerchon, chief human resources officer, says finding someone with both people smarts and book smarts is the ultimate goal. "Our job candidates are used to being the smartest people in the room," he says. "But when they come work on our team, everyone is super smart. We're looking for people who control their egos, who are collaborative by nature, who demonstrate flexibility and good listening skills, [have] a thirst for learning the things you don't know and collaborate with others for the greater good."

Brandy Fulton is vice president of human resources at the virtualization, networking and cloud-computing services company Citrix Systems, Inc., which has corporate headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif. She says they're looking for applicants who embody the company's core values. "Traits can't be taught, and they're not skills you can acquire," Fulton says. "We're looking for candidates with integrity. Respect. Humility. Conviction. We perform behavioral interviews with the candidate to really get to know them."

[Read: 7 Key Skills You Need to Get Hired Right Now.]

Patience is key, particularly during the hiring process. Elite companies thoroughly vet job candidates before extending an offer, so prepare for a lengthy interview process. Riverbed currently has openings in the U.S. for several IT positions from our Best Jobs of 2014 list, including database administrator (No. 5 job on the technology list) and desktop support specialist (also known as computer support specialist, No. 11). Guerchon says Riverbed uses an internal recruiting department to find appropriate job candidates for these positions. Those candidates will have to participate in a phone screen and some technical testing to showcase their skills. There will also be interviews with up to six people before a job offer is extended.

Citrix job candidates hoping to work as senior network engineers or application engineers (think software developer, like our No. 1 job on both the technology and overall lists) will have their initial screen over the phone with a recruiter, followed by a phone interview with the hiring manager or someone within the department in which there's an opening. This is usually followed by a full-day on-site visit with in-person interviews and practical tests to gauge capabilities. "Our interview process takes a lot of time," Fulton says. "It takes time to get to know someone."

[See The 100 Best Jobs of 2014.]

You don't need to know everything, but you do need to be willing to learn. Entry-level applicants who fall just short of a job's technical qualifications might still get a chance if they exhibit a willingness to learn. The top companies, such as Riverbed and Citrix, offer continuing education opportunities for both new workers and long-standing employees. "Of course we're looking for someone with a degree in the right area, and we want to see solid academic performance, but your transcript isn't all of who you are," Fulton says. "College demonstrates that you can finish something. But can you stick with something? We want hires who persist through assignments that are challenging and stick around to finish the task. Are you discouraged by mistakes? Or do you have persistence and do you come back?"

"We're most interested in candidates who are hungry to learn," Guerchon says. "I've had folks come in who are certainly smart, but maybe didn't have all the right skills, but still, they had the right attitude. We don't mind folks that don't have the exact skills set we're looking for, as long as they're still thirsty to learn."

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